“Zootopia” was a surprising hit for Walt Disney Co. last year. The animated movie grossed more than $1 billion worldwide and won an Academy Award.
A screenwriter is now suing Disney. He’s alleging that the studio stole his idea and copied his designs for the movie’s animal characters.
Screenwriter Gary Goldman, filed a suit Tuesday in a Los Angeles federal court where he stated that he pitched his idea to Disney for a franchise of movies and TV programs called “Zootopia” which includes an animated feature and a live-action component. He claims that Disney rejected the idea, then later stole his story, dialogue, title and artwork.
Goldman’s credits include “Total Recall” and “Big Trouble in Little China,” he was also a screenwriter for the 1990 movie “Navy Seals” and the 2007 sci-fi thriller “Next.” He served as an executive producer on Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report.”
The suit states that Disney’s “Zootopia” is “significantly similar” to Goldman’s “Zootopia.” It says: “Each of the works addresses the issue of whether, in a diverse society as represented by the different species of ‘Zootopia,’ one can be anything he or she wants to be.”
On Tuesday, Disney issued a statement saying: “Mr. Goldman’s lawsuit is riddled with patently false allegations. It is an unprincipled attempt to lay claim to a successful film he didn’t create, and we will vigorously defend against it in court.” Among other allegations, the plaintiff is claiming copyright infringement and breach of confidence.
A common practice in Hollywood:
Lawsuits by writers claiming that their ideas were stolen are not novel in Hollywood. Writers have sued against the makers of “Avatar,” “The Martian,” “Creed” and “Django Unchained.”
In many of these suits, the courts have sided against the writers. However, in the 1990 case of Buchwald vs. Paramount, where humorist Art Buchwald sued the studio claiming that it had stolen his idea for what became the Eddie Murphy movie “Coming to America,” the found in favor of Buchwald
According to the suit, Goldman first presented his idea in 200 to David Hoberman, Mandeville Films Chief Executive, but was rejected. Then nine years later, he pitched it again to Disney, and was again unsuccessful.
The lawsuit claims the presence of numerous character similarities between Goldman’s idea and the Disney movie, such as Disney character Nick, a con artist red fox, who is similar to the writer’s concept for Roscoe, a hyena. “Both are dog-like predators who appear sly, cynical, and untrustworthy because of their postures, half-lidded eyes, and smirks,” according to the suit.
“Zootopia” was released last March, it received high praise from critics and won an Oscar for best animated feature.